The contention that Montezuma thought that Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl is based upon the writings of Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagun, who was present with Cortés in 1519, and a document, the Florentine Codex, that was written more than 50 years after the fact.
Some arguments in favor of Montezuma’s belief that Cortés was the God Quetzalcoatl begin with the God’s promise to return after he died in a pyre or sailed off in a boat traveling east.
Physically, Quetzalcoatl was described in two forms; one a flying feathered serpent and the other a white -skinned man with a beard. Cortés would have fit into two of the four descriptions; he sailed from the East and was white-skinned with a beard.
Considered the creator of the 5th world, the present one, and the organizer of the cosmos. He is associated with the planet Venus, the wind and the rain, knowledge and learning. He was also believed to have created civilization. He taught the Meso-americans how to farm corn. He was believed to have invented writing, books, astronomy and calendars. He forbade human sacrifice, promoting the sacrifice of birds, butterflies, snakes and grasshoppers instead. He warned the Amerindians that he would return to punish them if they continued to sacrifice humans. OOOOPPS!!
Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, beginning in 1509, Montezuma believed that there were eight omens predicting the end of the Aztec civilization, the end of the world. The last of the eight omens in 1517 reported to Montezuma, was the sighting of “men with two heads”. They were the horse-back riding men of Juan de Grijalva’s expedition. Now I know you might be thinking how they could have gotten that one wrong but there was no such thing as horses in America until the Spanish brought them in the early 1500’s. I mean….describe the first time you saw a Gerenuk or a Blob Fish! Go on try it!!
It wasn’t that easy was it??
Coinciding with the arrival of Cortez, which was on the traditional birthday of Quetzalcoatl and during the year of the end of the 52 year cycle of the Aztec calendar, could have added to the legend. Montezuma may have been confused by all these events. Then again, there may have been confusion on the part of the Spanish; the possibility of the misinterpretation of the Nahuatl language for the greeting and/or the fact that the meaning of politeness to the Aztecs represented superiority to whoever was being polite.